Homer Himself as the Silent Master Mind of War
by Christopher Fulkerson

Plato On Homer's Military Significance: Keep It Secret, Stupid

Named after a Greek "rhapsode," or epic singer, Plato's dialogue ION depicts a boastful and naive musician ("Ionic" means "feminine") in a conversation with the intransigent Socrates. Ion claims that because he is a great rhapsode, who has memorized all of Homer and can sing it all without stopping, he would make a great military general, precisely because he knows Homer so well, for "To my mind," he says, "There is no difference" between "skill in generalship, and as a good rhapsode."

Socrates clearly disputes this, but he disputes it for different reasons than are evident on the page. He seems to dispute Ion's claim on the face of it, with what appears to be a hard-headed, common sense view, because he denies the correspondence between knowledge of Homer and military prowess that Ion believes exists. Ion has indeed put his understanding forward in a very clumsy way, and Socrates pounces on the weaknesses in his presentation. He maneuvers the conversation away from ideas, which is where Ion's claim makes sense, and into a series of banally down-to-earth, factual statements that prove that in order to be good at something, a person has to have the skills of that profession. "If you were distinguishing the good lyre-players," Socrates says to Ion, "You would admit that you distinguished by your skill in the lyre, and not by your skill as a horseman." Ion is forced to agree with this. Socrates seems to be giving the rhapsode's apparently absurd claim a reality check. Hello, singing is not warfighting, Socrates seems to say. But at the very end of the dialogue we get a hint of what he is really concerned about.

To defeat Ion's claim, Socrates resorts to the well-known ancient Greek distinction between a rhapsode and an aoidos. A rhapsode was thought of as noble and divine, "possessed" by the poet he performs, and was an automaton not aware of what he was doing. An aoidos was thought of as artistic and dishonest, the creative "possessor" of those who perform his works, and a free spirit. Today we would say the distinction was that between a performer such as an actor or a pianist, and a creative artist such as a playwright or a composer. We may notice that by discussing only artistic roles, Socrates deftly avoids any appearance that he accepts Ion's military claim as such. Socrates uses only artistic terms to discuss the issues Ion is trying to bring up. When Ion loses the argument, he loses without ever having actually engaged Socrates.

The conversation between Socrates and Ion focuses on distinctions between performing and creative artists by contrasting the two types of personality as either "divine" or "dishonest." "Choose which of the two you prefer us to call you, dishonest or divine," says Socrates at the end of the dialogue, successfully baiting the rhapsode. "It is far nobler to be called divine," says Ion. Socrates's parting shot is "Then you may count on this nobler title in our minds, Ion, of being a divine and not an artistic praiser of Homer." Socrates maneuvers a singer of epics into the position of being un-artistic. What can this mean? A singer is by definition an artist. Socrates has in fact called the singer a bad artist. Why does Socrates think Ion is a bad artist?

Socrates believes that Ion has been irresponsible and utterly foolish, but not for quite the reason that he allows us to conclude from the words Plato gives him, for Socrates knows that Ion's claim is not, in fact, false. For by making his claim out loud, and playing the part of a rock star stud, Ion commits an artless blunder. Socrates feels justified in putting Ion in his place, since he is bad artist who is merely a performer with an inflated opinion of himself and his kind and has no concern for the meanings that concern the creative aoidos. Another mistake Ion makes, is that he thinks that if a master wrote it, it must be right for all time. If that were true, why are there still modern aoidoses?

Since he also knows Homer very well, Socrates knows that military teachings are indeed written into the epics, for anyone to find, hidden in plain sight, like most of the world's secrets. But a proper artist, Socrates teaches, will keep silent about this.

A proper artist would rather be thought of as dishonest, and merely "artistic," while in fact through his creations he leads the people as though they were an army. A proper artist would prefer this than to be thought of as any kind of god, since the rhapsodes, who stand above others on a stage and act the lives of nobles and gods, are only performing the works written by the apparently humbler creative aoidoses. This is an incredibly important teaching for any creative artist. The performers will seem to get all the glory, and be revered as gods, while the creative artists will seem to have the humbler position, yet be the geniuses. Socrates is teaching that the creative artists of the world, whom he calls "dishonest," are the more effective world leaders than the performers whom everybody admires, whom he acknowledges as "divine."

Socrates is pointing up Ion's personal hubris, but he knows the problem is greater than that. By speaking openly about the military aspect of Homer's writings, Ion is losing his deniability as a mere rhapsode. He has created a security breach. Socrates might say that this essay is a security breach. Without spilling the beans, Socrates has told Ion to shut up. If he were around today, he might say the same to me, or he might already realize that I am doing nothing more than defending the position of the modern aoidos, letting this paper go out into a world populated mostly by rhapsodes, who desperately need to read it. It is safe to say that Socrates would not have advocated equal educational opportunity for all: the advanced students have to teach themselves. He seems to insist that the most important information is not imparted by any teacher. It consists of realizations that have to made on one's own, and then kept secret.

Ion is being nobly, indeed divinely honest, like a typical rhapsode, when he says that Homer is a teacher of military matters. But Socrates's meaning seems to be that if Ion would only become more dishonest, a more artistic and creative free spirit, he would make a better general. And to begin with, being less nobly honest, he would not speak out loud the word that there is anything really military about Homer. Whenever the subject comes up, Socrates tries to make it sound as though Ion must mean the warriors and hardware of war, the soldiers and charioteers and horses and chariots of actual warfighting. Since Ion's clumsy words allow us to think he must mean these things, his apparent argument is quite absurd, and merits being swiftly curtailed. In this way Socrates does succeed in preventing Ion from speaking out loud Homer's actual intelligence and strategic content, which he, Socrates, wants kept secret.

For it is indeed true that Homer is a supreme artist of military tactics. And, like the more extreme Socrates, who probably learned it from him, his overriding concern is for a more urgent spin on the familiar expression KISS: Keep It Secret, Stupid.

Problems with Getting the Facts From the Odyssey

Anyone who hears the story of the Trojan Horse as it is described in the Odyssey knows that it sounds like an incredible fable, something the belief in which is not really plausible, because believing in it requires the suspension of common sense. Not even a child hears the story without asking themselves how all those people can't figure out that the huge wooden horse they've dragged into their city is hollow.

What is it supposed to mean to the Greeks to offer it? Sometimes it's explained as a final homage that the Greeks pay to their implacable enemies of a decade-long war. Who is there who doesn't sense a big problem with such an idea? Why would the Greeks pay any homage at all to the Trojans, their mortal enemies? Putting aside the question of their suspicion, why would the Trojans believe in such an honor? And why would the Trojans accept a trophy from an enemy - realize that the enemy is still the enemy; when the Greeks seem to give up the war that doesn't suddenly mean they're now all good buddies.

Homer calls Odysseus "the Master Mind of War." Homer admires Odysseus, but for Virgil he is a troublesome quantity. Since the Romans believed they were the descendants of the Trojans, Virgil, as a Roman, sides with Troy. In the Aeneid Virgil calls Odysseus "the Master Mind of Crime."

What crime? Of winning a war? Isn't that rather conspicuously, shallowly partisan of Virgil? What is Virgil thinking?

As everybody knows, Odysseus was the "mastermind" of the "Trojan Horse." Odysseus is called variously the "man of many wiles," or frankly a trickster - he is a pathalogical liar, apparently consitutionally incapable of telling the truth or even of being staightforward when no lie seems called for. For example, after all is said and done, when he is back at home with his throne restored and with every last competitor - and every last competitor's girlfriend! - dead, what reason could he possibly have to blatantly mislead his old father about who he is? The first thing he does when greeting him after twenty years is give his own dad a long cock-and-bull story about who he is. We could say that lying is Odysseus's weapon of choice, but sometimes he just seems like a plain compulsive liar. And Homer cooperates with him, and with Odysseus's family. Homer tells us many times that Penelope has been faithful to Odysseus for all the years he was away at the Trojan War. But if that were true, they could have spent that first night together in their palace after their interview together once he returns. He could have declared himself and given her the evidence that caused the old nursemaid to realize who he was, namely the scar on his thigh that Odysseus got hunting boar. Instead, he growls the nursemaid to silence. Presumably Odysseus could have offered any proof Penelope may have wanted, except his magically rendered emaciated appearance. And apparently all the evidence she would accept, even once his appearance was restored, was to be sure of was that he knew how their bed was made! They could then have gone upstairs together, spent the night in each other's arms, and then come downstairs again before breakfast, pretending they don't know each other, simply continuing to act as Queen and street vagabond.

There has to be a reason that Odysseus spends that first night in the palace alone, downstairs, on the floor of the great hall. It is because there is at least one other person upstairs in the master bedroom, and Penelope can't waltz in with just anybody, not with a pickup, certainly not with her husband. Odysseus has to stay downstairs and cool his heals while another man - or men - makes love to his wife one more time (We are told there are two chief favorites, who are usually spoken of together. Yes, isn't that interesting, we are told quite plainly that Penelope has her favorites from among the men). He doesn't want to say anything more to her than he has to, he wants to make it as easy as possible for his wife to lie to her suitors... and, for strategic reasons, to lie with them one more time. With a close reading of the text it is possible to believe that he does, in fact, reveal himself, but only in his wiley way, using false names and descriptions only his wife will understand. Whether or not one wishes to accept that reading, it is still a very good question as to why they don't get together the night before the battle in the hall. There is even a stuffed weapons closet that is easily available - why doesn't Odysseus just get his bow out then, and have it ready for morning slaughter? Once you get used to catching Odysseus - and his family - in lies, a host of "deeper meanings" or just plain obfuscated truths begins to rise to the surface. These are part of a complex web of strategies that resolve to one important moment: the moment Odysseus stands before all his assembled and helpless enemies, the moment that with the help of only his son and two servants, Odysseus reverses a revolution that seems already to have been lost.

The Last Word in the Iliad

The Odyssey has many lacunae, and speaks in clear metaphor or even myth in such a way that it is relatively easy to find where Homer is adroitly misleading providing us to believe we have an omniscient point of view that we don't actually enjoy. When Odysseus tells his story, we have to decide whether we are going to accept one-eyed cannibal giants as part of the scenery. There are enough such things, and deliberate plot disconnects, that any careful reader can learn that Homer isn't telling us everything. Once the reader gets in stride with this, it is relatively easy to pick apart Homer's story.

But the Iliad is quite another matter. It really seems as though all they are ever talking about is murderous war. Everyone seems to be working entirely on the emotion of the moment, and judging their and others' actions purely on the spur of the moment, everything having to do with personal, family or tribal honor. Coming from the Odyssey, where nothing is as it seems, the Iliad seems mind-numbingly unwilling to give up its secrets. As long as it apears it really doesn't have any secrets, the Iliad makes rather dull reading. This is because all the excitement is in the inferences between the lines.

We are told by literati of all eras that, of the most spectacular and famous part of the Trojan War, and that would of course be the Trojan Horse, the Iliad makes no mention.

I find it difficult to believe that I am the first person in history to notice that the very last word in the text of the Iliad is the word "horses."

A flashing neon light is there at the end of it all, flashing "Horses...horses...horses..." to anyone who can make an inference. When I heard that last word spoken in an audio book, that is, in the spoken format that the tale is intended to be told in, I have an epiphany. I realized that we are supposed to put the facts together ourselves. The last line of the Iliad can be translated "So they performed the funeral rites of Hektor, tamer of horses." The Greek word for this last epithet is one word, hippodamoio; though two words in English, "Horse Tamer," it really is only one word in Greek.

Homer witholds the full meaning of the story right up to the very last word. And if you know how the Trojan war was won, you know that the key has been given. The one thing we are led to believe was left out of the story, the so-called "horse," is getting the last word. Something we are told doesn't happen in the Iliad is, it turns out, an accomplished fact by the end of the story. It's all over except the fighting. If one must make war, this is the way to do it.

The Trojan Horse Tamer

The dead body of Hektor, who as a Trojan is called a " Tamer of Horses", is, itself, the "Trojan Horse." There is no actual wooden "Trojan Horse" as described in the Odyssey, and, of course, there never was. It would be better to call the Iliad "Operation Trojan Horse Tamer." Everything in the story is related to the process of the strategic operation of getting the Trojans not only to open their city to the Greeks, but to do so under certain circumstances. Even when events seem to be static, such as during the funeral games for Patroclus, everything is proceeding according to a master plan.

The final events of the Iliad are the preparations for the burial of Hektor, the Trojan prince of the blood who has slaughtered so very many Greeks. Every other time any Trojan has begged for the mercy of being ransomed, rather than slaughtered, the Greeks have denied this, and killed the guy. There is even an almost amusing scene in which one Greek says he might be willing to spare a particular Trojan, who begs to be ransomed, but then he changes his mind and kills him anyway. Now, however, when King Priam of Troy comes down from the town alone with his driver to beg for the body of his son, and to ransom it with much costly treasure, the Greeks accept the very deal they have always previously refused. Even more surprisingly, Achilles says to Priam, "I suppose you're going to want time to bury Hektor."

Priam replies, "That would be nice."

Achilles asks "How much time do you need to throw a proper shindig?"

Priam jumps at this, "Nine days to collect wood, one day to burn his body in a pyre, and one day to party down!"

"I guess it's OK, " says Achilles, apparently the soul of accomodation.

And "Oh by the way," Priam asks, "It would be really great of you to allow safe passage for my people during this time, so they can collect all the firewood they need for the funeral from the nearby hills. We plan to have a really rockin' bonfire for Hektor."

It is safe to say that the Greeks would like to see a really big bonfire in Troy.

So Achilles allows the safe passage. Priam is either stupid gullible, or an actual traitor. There is a case for either possibility, but more about that later.

Priam goes back up the hill and says "Hey everybody the Greeks have given us an eleven-day cease fire, and they will stand around and do nothing while we leave the city gates open and schlepp tons of firewood in for the bonfire."

That's the Greek ticket. This situation is what they have been working toward the entire time. With the gates of Troy open, the people scattered across the hills, and an increasing amount of combustable wood stacked up in the town, the Greeks have only to decide when to walk in the front gate, light the wood to burn the city down, and kill anybody who resists, while a noticeable portion of the population is dispersed across the countryside, unavailable to defend the city when it is thus ruthlessly attacked. Sometime during the nine days of wood-gathering, after enough wood was collected to help burn the city, but still while an enough people were out gathering it, the Greeks attacked Troy.

So, the chief Greek weapon is deception. And indeed it is Odysseus, the master liar, the great trickster, who gets credit for masterminding the whole thing. All the Greeks have to do is set up a truce that is strategic enough to violate.

Who is it who told us the "Trojan Horse" was a big horse made of wood, which the Trojans couldn't figure out might have something in it? Why, it was the supporters of Odysseus, the compulsive liar, who told us that. He got us to believe him, too. The Greeks executed "Operation Trojan Horse Tamer" by leading the Trojans to believe that they honored the Trojan funeral rites as much as they did.

It is indeed true that the Trojans couldn't figure out what was being done - or even what they themselves were doing, collecting the very firewood with which their city would be burned down. It is true that something, that is the dead body of Hektor, was ceremoniously hauled into Troy, something that the Trojans valued, and which the Greeks didn't want. It is true that it has to do with Trojan honor, and though it was not a gift, it came about by the Greeks allowing it, so it has the aspect that some gifts have of being something that is allowed. It is indeed true that wood was an important ingredient in the mix, not to fashion a horse from, but to burn a horseman. It is true that utter silence had to be maintained about what was really being done.

The Master Mind of War - and of Crime

Odysseus's version of the story, in which, through the mouths of others who describe the "Trojan Horse," whose reports he weeps to hear, he encourages the belief of theTrojan Horse as a big hollow wooden statue in which Greek soldiers were hidden, is about as true as anything else he says, about sea monsters, sleeping with island goddesses, and fighting giant cannibal cyclops.

Oh, the "Trojan Horse" did have Greeks in it. For it is not the soldier in it that makes a Trojan Horse. Hektor was simultaneously a "Trojan Horse" and, with perhaps the heaviest, most sacrastic viscious irony of all time, a "Horse Tamer."

It is important to realize that the Trojan War was a religious war, as indicated by the divided involvement of the Olympian Gods on both sides of the conflict, and that the truce the Greeks agree to, and violate, is a religious truce. That is why Virgil calls Odysseus, who is credited with the whole operation, the "Master Mind of Crime." It is a crime to violate a thing that is agreed upon by both parties. To religious people, it is a particularly dastardly crime to violate a religious trust. The one thing both sides seemed - but only seemed! - to agree about at the time of the Greek attack was the sanctity of funeral rites for fallen heroes.

The Greeks don't ask for Trojan trust, but courting it is nevertheless crucial to the operation.

How the Trojans Were Led to Think As They Did

The chief task of the Greeks is to win so much popular support from the Trojan people that they will trust them not to attack while they are out in the hills gathering wood. An important part of the Greek deception of the Trojans was to get them to believe that they shared a common belief in big funerals for fallen heroes. This is why the Greeks have the funeral games for Patroclus, their fallen hero, who fought wearing Achilles's armor. They have those games to show the Trojans, whom they know are watching, that they hold such festivities to be solemn sacred duties.

There are many strategic reasons for Patroclus's Funeral Games, and during them we learn the "key" to the "Trojan Horse." One of the reasons the Funeral Games are needed, is to have a big bonfire. Why is the bonfire needed? To strip the surrounding countryside of wood. We are told that there is such a wood collection for the Funeral Games. If the surrounding countryside is stripped of wood, the Trojans will have to be even more dispersed across that same countryside and beyond, in order to collect the wood they think they need for Hektor's funeral pyre.

The Greeks themselves teach the Trojans about funeral pyres for fallen heroes. Specifically, it is Achilles who advocates the sanctity of fire. He does this passively, in a very low key way, and only through example. In every situation but one in the Iliad, when the Greeks toast the gods at meals, they do so by "pouring a libation" to them. This is the act, still practiced in the far East, of giving away a bit of food, for the Greeks it was wine and animal fat, to the gods by pouring it or throwing it on the ground before they themselves eat and drink. This act was typical in the ancient world, and is preserved in the Bible in the places where Aaron and his sons are instructed to "pour out the blood of the sacrifice on the ground, as though it were water." The Greeks poured wine, not blood, but both religions shared a belief that the divinity especially liked the smell of animal fat.

But in a famous and crucial scene in his tent, where we can see how he himself does things, Achilles does not practice this nearly universal form of sacrifice to the Gods. Instead, we observe his groom, Patroclus, cast the little sacrifice into the fire. Achilles seems to be a fire-worshipper.

But he only appears to be. He is encouraging others, in this case the traitor (for that's what I think he is) Phoenix to believe that he and his closest men, for example his beloved groom Patroclus, to believe that he is of a different religion than the other Greeks.

One of the alternative versions of the Iliad includes an alternative version of Achilles death. In this version, Achilles is playing both sides of the conflict, apparently as a spy, and once toward the end of the conflict, when he goes to Troy, to actually talk with the Trojans in secret, they kill him.

I say, that the Iliad as we have it allows this reading to stand. For Achilles acts in numerous ways that allow the Trojans to believe he is for them, not against them. There is something far more significant that the apparent subtlety that Achilles seems to be more Trojan than Greek in his religious practice of fire-worship, as mentioned a moment ago.

Most famously, Achilles refuses to fight. My, what a convenient policy for the Trojans, that the most deadly Greek of all time won't fight them. But Achilles in not only a deadly fighter, he is a master politician. As a result of Achilles' apparent pacifism, the Trojans, especially Hektor, slaughter many Greeks. But I say, Achilles only considers these losses to be part of the cost of the war. On page one of the Iliad, Homer tells us that Achilles refuses to fight because King Agamemnon has taken his war-prize, the beautiful concubine Briseis. Apparently Agamemnon wants Briseis for his own pleasure, when his concubine Chryseis has to be given back to her father, the Trojan priest Chryses, after Chryses puts a mysterious "spell" on the Greek camp, which causes a plague. Later, I will have more to say about this plague, which is a clear instance of an ancient "priest" exhibiting greater scientific knowledge than we nowadays are led the ancients to have had.

But later in the Iliad, we learn, during the revealing events of Patroclus's Funeral Games, that it is the losers of events who get the women. Women, in the Iliad, are prizes, all right... for those in last place. The losers are "wifed out."

In a sense, which is not his only mask, Achilles maneuvers the entire Greek army, acts over the head of King Agamemnon and most apparent leaders among the Greeks, and defeats the Trojans... by acting the part of the loser, the petulant sentimentalist who pines for his girl. But in no other environment than political ones does he give her that kind of importance, and again, at the games we learn what all the Greeks really believe about having a girl in camp. For at the Games, when Achilles awards a girl to the loser, no one thinks this is unusual. In his tactic of misleading his countrymen about his real reason for withdrawing from the fighting, Achilles has the support and full understanding of only two people: Odysseus, and Nestor... the true King of the Greeks. For Agamemnon is not the High King he believes himself to be. Once again, Homer has deceived us, but in accordance with the nature of his material.

Achilles himself tells us the real reason he withdraws from the fighting. It is to lure Hektor down to the ships, at which time Achilles and his Myrmidons will rejoin the fighting.

Achilles needs to make Hektor into a great hero, so that when he falls, he will merit a great bonfire... inside the walls of Troy. The Greeks who fall to make Hektor look good are "collatoral damage." But there is one important element in Hektor's fall which will make the Trojan loss complete.

Somehow, the Greeks need to get Hektor into a specific type of Greek armor. It is a kind of armor that Epeus, whom Odysseus credits with the actual "construction" of the "Trojan Horse," knows something about, something that he reveals during the Funeral Games, something that leads to Hektor's death in his lonely encounter with Achilles, when no one can see how he dies.

The Greek Strategic Priorities, In Reverse

Last item: to burn down Troy during its bonfire for Hektor.

First item: for Achilles to feign a wounded honor, so that he does not have to fight. This puts all but his own Mymidon forces at greater risk, so the fact that it is part of the plan must be kept a secret from the rank and file soldiers.

The True King of the Greeks

The true King of the Greeks is not Agamemnon, but Nestor, who is the only Greek commander to order the construction of a major earthworks, namely the wall between the beach and the city, and the only to order a general tax on the nobility, that is, the fees that are paid to put together the prizes for the Funeral Games for Patroclus. In both cases Nestor's "suggestions" are obeyed immediately and without any opposition or remark whatsoever, whereas almost anything any other Greek commander orders is subjest to argument or even ridicule, in constant infighting.

Why is Nestor's kingship kept a secret? Because it is necessary to hide from the rank and file Greeks the nature of their military operation, which will require the loss of personnel at the fight that is staged by the Greeks at the beach in defense of the ships. That's right, I say that the battle at the beach is staged by the Greeks to elevate Hektor in the eyes of his own countrymen, so they will mourn him all the more, and order that huge bonfire which the Greeks will make sure results in the destruction of the city. If the Greek soldiers knew their deaths were going to be part of a deceptive strategy to lure the Trojans away from Troy, they would at least have balked, and perhaps have revealed the plan to the Trojans.

So, the true chain of command is kept a secret even from the Greeks. In fact if we look at the sequence of events we will learn that only three people know the truth about "Operation Trojan Horse Tamer:" Nestor, Achilles, and Odysseus.

There is support for this kind of royal deception in the First Book of Thucydides, who not only makes it plain that he has no truck with those who simply believe what they're told, he calls such people fools. Here is his report:

"The way that most men deal with traditions, even traditions of their own country," where presumably they should know better, "Is to receive them all alike as they're delivered, without applying any critical test whatever. The Athenian public generally believe that Hipparchus was tyrant when he fell by the hands of Harmodus and Aristogiton. They do not know that Hippias, the eldest of the sons of Pisistratus, was really supreme; that Hipparchus and Thessalus were his brothers; and that Harmodius and Aritstogiton... suspected that he had been warned. They did not attack Hippias but, not liking to riskj their lives and be apprehended for nothing, they mfell upon Hipparchus near the temple of the daughters of Leos and slew him as he was arranging the Panathenaic procession."

There is more to this story, which would have been understood by Greeks in the time of Thucydides. Notice that not only was it not known that Hippias was the true king or tyrant, but it was not even known that he was directly related to the people who were his front men. Even his name is a deception. "Hippias" is a non-name: it is the title of the military position of a royal guard. Certainly in Sparta, the battle guard of the king was the Hippias; it simply means "Horseman," and as a name it probably would have sounded similar to an Athenian. Such "horsemen" were not necessarily mounted. A "horseman" was a very common thing, and for someone to go around with the name of "Hippias" would be like someone today calling themselves "Driver," or, better yet, it would be like someone called "Bodyguard." The deflection of public awareness away from even the facts about who was in charge was complete. A "Hippias" would have a reason to be near the apparent leader, but he would not be thought to be the leader.

Not only that, but in the case of the murder of the relative non-entity Hipparchus, an entire religion sprang up to mourn him and keep his memory. There was even a popular scolium, or drinking-song, which celebrated the murderous exploits of the supposedly righteous Harmodius and Aristogiton, and which all Athenians who supposed themselves to be of anti-tyrannical opinion sang for generations. But the people lived with egg on their faces for all this time, and the real tyrant and intended victim escaped and reigned on. The comic playwright Aristophanes agrees with Thucycdides' account.

Naturally, we want to believe that such things never happen nowadays. Whether they do or not, we can be sure that it happened in everyday life, and was noticed only by the more perceptive, in ancient Greece.

Through the Device of Paraphrase, Herodotus Gives the Key to the Entire "Trojan Horse Tamer" Operation

In his report about the Persian attack on Greece at Erythrai in the year 479 B.C., Herodotus gives a paraphrase of the many of the basic points in what I am calling "Operation Trojan Horse Tamer." In Book Nine, Paragraphs 21 through 25 of his "Histories," Herodotus describes a sequence of events that very closely resembles that at Troy about 1200 B.C. He tells how some Greeks from Megara "Happened to be deployed in the most vulnerable position of the entire battlefield." This corresponds to those Greeks who were defending the beached ships at Troy against Hektor's great onslaught, which only the three top commanders know is a deliberate lure. Herododus goes on to tell us that after intense fighting, and losing confidence, the Megarians call upon and receive support from another group of Greeks.

Herodotus then descibes how the Persian captain was brought down by the Greeks. Note that to a Greek, a Trojan in 1200 B.C. would be as much or more a part of the Babylonian empire, the predecessor of the Persians whom Herodotus describes. "As the cavalry was attacking by regiments, the horse of Masistios, which stood out in front of the rest, was pieced in its ribs by an arrow, and in pain the horse reared up on its hind legs and threw Masistios to the ground. As soon as he fell, the Athenians attacked him. They took his horse and killed Masistios as he was struggling to defend himself," Herodotus says, "But they were unable to kill him because of the way he was armed. Since he was wearing a breastplate made of golden scales next to his skin, and over it a crimson tunic, they accomplished nothing as they struck against the breastplate. Then someone realized the reason for this and jabbed him in the eye, at which point he collapsed and died. The rest of the cavalry was at first ignorant of all this, because as they had turned around and were riding away in retreat, no one had seen how he fell from his horse and subsequently died fighting... Once they realized what had happened, they cried out and rallied one another, and charged back to retrieve the corpse... a bitter struggle was fought over the corpse... they were beginning to abandon the corpse when the main body of infantry came to their aid. Then it was the [Persian] horsemen who could no longer stand their ground. Not only did they fail to retrieve the corpse, but they now lost other horsemen in addition to their commander... And so... they decided to rider back to [the Persian camp at] Mardonios.

"Upon the arrival of the cavalry at their camp, the whole army, and Mardonios most of all, went into mourning for Masistios, and in boundless mourning they shaved their heads and also their horses and pack animals. All Boeotia echoed with their laments as they mourned the death of the man who had been next to Mardonios, the most esteemed by the Persians and by the King himself. So it was that the barbarians honored Masistios in death according to their custom.

"The Hellenes gained much courage from the fact that they had stood up to the attack of the cavalry and had repelled it. The first thing they did was to place the corpse on a wagon and have it drawn past the armies various units in their assigned positions. They displayed it this way because the body of Masistios was worth seeing for its size and beauty, and the men left their ranks in order to see it."

The reader acquainted with the Iliad may already recognize the remarkable parallels between this report and Homer's tale about Troy. There is the fact already obseved that hostilities begin in "the most vulnerable place" - the Megarans corresponding to the Greek Achaeans at the beached ships at Troy - in which an enemy charge at first goes poorly and is costing Greek lives, and so their position is supported with fresh troops.

Like the Babylon-affiliated Hektor, the Persian commander Masistios is wearing superstrong armor, and he can only be killed with a special stroke to the head, just as Hektor is killed with a special stroke to the neck. Both enemy commanders fall without their deaths being noticed by their countrymen, and in both cases their bodies are recovered by the Greeks. At both Troy at Eryithrai the enemy captains are given extreme funeral rites, and after both battles the Greeks put the body of the fallen enemy leader onto a wagon and display it to the entire army. In the Iliad, Hektor's body is still in the wagon when it is ceremoniously taken back into the city of Troy, after Achilles strikes his rather advantagous deal with Hektor's father, king Priam of Troy.

Important aspects of Herodotus's history are the fact that the enemy captain is killed through the use of a special stroke to the head; that he is overmuch mourned by the enemy; and that his body is removed to a wagon; and that the enemy ardently desires to retreive their dead captain's body. At Erythrai, the Persians actually fight and lose men just to try to recover Masistios's body. At Troy, Hektor's death is not during a battle, so there can be no Trojan effort to recover it through fighting for it, but Priam pays a rich ransom for Hektor's body - and then he pays with the loss of his city.

The Greek Order of Battle

The words which the Greeks use to descibe themselves are not arbitrary or vague. The terms are not equivalent one to another, not intercahngeable. There is a pattern to the usage of the terminology that only the "triumvirate" of Nestor, Achilles, and Odysseus use consistently. Basically, this usage reveals that it is the Achaeans who are the Greek canon-fodder. This is given succinctly at the beginning of Book Two, where we are told that Zeus, the king of the gods, is "turning over in his mind... how to slaughter hordes of Achaeans pinned against their ships?" Why would the omnipotent god want to kill the countrymen of his favorite among the Greeks, Achilles, at one and the same time he asks "how may he exalt him?"

But I run ahead of myself. Let's make a sustained assessment of key usages of the three words by which the Greeks call themselves, Argives, Danaans, and Achaeans... the marching orders, which will decide who lives and who dies, are never expicit, but they can be inferred. At least, the usages that the "triumvirate" makes of these terms allows the planning of casualties to be inferred.



Check Herodotus's word for the lethal "jabbing" of Masistios in the eye - is this word similar to the one Homer chooses to describe how Epeius brings down his opponent in the Funeral Games, or to how Achilles kills Hektor?

Answer to question: why does Achilles, the most deadly soldier of all time, feel he should kill his chief enemy when no one else is around? Because he does not want the trojans to know about the booby-trapped armor. If anyone sees him strike Hektor's death blow, they wil know the kind of strike that will work, the one invented by Epeus and demonstrated by him at the Funeral Games for Patroclus; and they will know where to strike the blow: at the throat.

The biggest lie in the whole scenario as it is commonly understood is that there were Greeks brought in with the Trojan Horse. But I don't know very much about the standards of aggression between combatant forces during times of truce in 1700 BC. It may be that this sort of thing is not known. On the one hand we may want to assume that the aggressive feeling was complete; on the other, the nature of the operation was religious and involved a lot of Greek work to gain popular support from the Trojans. The more successful the operation, the more likely it would have been that the Trojans accepted Greeks among them for their religious rites. But it is not necessary for the Greeks to have been in the city at the time of the attack. The truce would have meant the gates were open; we are told as much. I say, the Greeks marched right in and took the town. The question is only whether an advance guard was there to hold the gates open, or open them if they were suddenly closed at the approach of the Greek army.

We know from some warfighting accounts that there was actual occasional fraternizing between opposing sides, for example, the well-known pre-battle drinking bouts between Medieval Russian belligerents. (In this context it is interesting that I learned of this "tradition" while singing in a Russian church.) It is possible, but seems doubtful, that the Trojans allowed Greek soldiers access to the city of Troy during the cease-fire. If they did, then even the aspect of the "Trojan Horse" that included Greeks within the city would be maintained. More information is needed about culture during wartime.


More to follow in this essay, begun September 17, 2009; first posted September 22, 2009. Updated October 12, 2010


c Copyright 2010 by Christopher Fulkerson